Sir Humphrey on new UK Cabinet Office shared services appointment

Dear Minister for the Cabinet Office,

You asked me for a briefing to prepare for any adverse comment on our recent appointment of Paul Marriner as Executive Director for Government Shared Services in the Cabinet Office (at SCS2 level). We understand Spend Matters, the UK’s leading procurement and supply chain website, which can tend towards the scurrilous, is preparing a major 6-part 25,000 word feature on the topic.

Mr Marriner, as you know, has been acting as our Head of Shared Services for some time. The position has been a troubled one – our progress in developing shared services has not met your aspirations over the last two years and indeed we suspect one of the reasons John Collington (the previous Government Chief Procurement Officer) chose to leave the Cabinet Office was the extension of his responsibility to cover shared services.  We believe he was frustrated by the lack of progress and willingness of Departments to co-operate in our programme.

Returning to Marriner; before he took over from Collington, he was on secondment to Cabinet Office, running the Procurement Technology Development programme very successfully. But the sensitivity is that his previous employer was Fujitsu, where he worked for some 5 years and was their client engagement lead into UK central government for some time.

They are of course the one firm who have publicly disclosed themselves as being on the receiving end of your very successful “supplier blacklisting” initiative. So we might expect the media to pick up on this, and ask whether it is appropriate for a senior executive from a firm who have failed to meet public sector expectations, in your eyes, to take up such a critical role.

I suggest your response if you are questioned should focus on the following.

1. Marriner won the competition fair and square – the role was advertised openly (although he was of course in a strong position as he has been working with us for the last two years on secondment).

2. He is an experienced and expert individual with considerable skill and experience in this area.

3. Who better to help us manage the supply base – the poacher turned gamekeeper argument.

4. We are reasonable people – we don’t hold a grudge against individuals, we just want to encourage the firm to perform better for the UK government.

5. Paul Marriner? Never heard of him. Oh him. Well, at least he’s not from CSC ...

I do not of course recommend option 5.

Our defence appears fairly strong, although I am sure some will talk about confused messages and see this as perhaps another sign of the issues with shared services. No doubt some will point out again that our shared service centres can, for example, only accept invoices by post which is hardly at the leading edge of best practice. But luckily for us, with the travails of our colleagues in DfT and the BBC, press attention is firmly focused elsewhere. There is only a certain amount of "bandwidth" (as I believe they call it) in the media for somewhat tedious debate around administrative issues such as this.

I would be, of course, very happy to discuss further.

Your servant

Sir Humphrey Appleby CB,

(Joking aside - good luck to Marriner in what is a very tough and fairly thankless role!)

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